It's an act of bravery to open a new restaurant in the Tampa area right now, with so many closures dotting the landscape from Gulf Boulevard to Brandon Boulevard. But it's heartening to see people try, especially when the food makes an attempt to be more than quickly prepared and non-offensive.
Señor Tequila's, which opened earlier this year in the location vacated by Honey's, is actually the second location for the restaurant. The flagship is in Winter Springs, north of Orlando and Altamonte Springs.
The Carrollwood location has, unfortunately, seen tenants come and go through the recession and the current slow recovery. Before Honey's closed, the space was home to Alessi's Woodstone Oven. Throughout it all, the venerable IHOP has remained next door.
Inside, the new tenants have transformed the former sports bar into a clean and bright Tex-Mex restaurant with about 30 tables and booths inside and another half-dozen tables in the courtyard. Spanish-language music plays over speakers. The booths, the color of penny loafers, sit on tile floors. The wall décor is dominated by a black and white mural with lime-green accents.
The citrus theme is carried throughout as a nod to the accessory of tequila.
And speaking of tequila, the restaurant boasts a separate tequila menu and offers discounts on margaritas every Tuesday. Although not a Tuesday, we felt obliged to try the house specialty, which achieved the dual margarita mission of tasting sweet and giving the proceedings a warm, golden glow.
As is the case in many Tex-Mex establishments, complimentary chips and salsa are brought to every table. During both of our visits, the tortilla chips were warm and fresh from the fryer. The salsa was more pureed than chunky, flavorful and gently spiced.
For starters we tried the warm crab and spinach dip, a mild cheesy mixture that paired well with the crisp fried tortilla chips. Other starters include the more typical nachos and chicken wings, good for the less adventurous.
For entrees we recommend the Brochetas. Two wooden skewers come loaded with hunks of chicken and steak interspersed with onions and peppers, marinated in a powerful mixture of chili peppers and spices and grilled to add a smoky flavor.
Also good is the Señor Favorite, a flank steak cooked to order, fork-tender and served with a chimichurri that perfectly complemented the savory meat. For more typical Tex-Mex fare, the chili rellenos includes two cheese-stuffed poblano peppers dipped in a light, airy batter and then deep-fried and served with rice and beans and heaps of guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream.
For those with broader tastes — or who can't decide or narrow down their order — the Enchiladas Supremas offers an enchilada of every flavor: cheese, chicken, beef and bean. While not our favorite, it certainly may satisfy your Tex-Mex craving. For lighter fare, the fajita taco salad comes with either beef or chicken atop a bed of fresh iceberg, cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo in a crispy tortilla bowl.
For dessert we chose the churros and got four fried churros sprinkled in cinnamon and sugar, then drizzled in caramel. Needless to say, it is difficult to go wrong with that dish, and Señor Tequila's did not disappoint.
The most outstanding aspect of our dining experience was the service, which is some of the best we've experienced of late. There wasn't any lazing around by the staff at this restaurant. They are not leaning, they are cleaning. Literally. I saw it — from the bartender wiping down shelves to the wait staff wiping tables, pouring water and checking on customers.
To top it off, during our first visit our waiter treated the women at the table with a parting gift of origami roses made from paper napkins, right before our eyes.
Bottom Line: Solid Tex- Mex cuisine in a convenient Carrollwood location
Where: 11115 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Children's Menu: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Price: $9 to $21
Contact: (813) 280-9955